1. Tye Hill – Hill is the best cover corner in the draft and I have a hunch the Patriots may be enamored with him. New England has a lot of good corners on their roster but no one with the ball skills that Hill possesses. I think Hill has a chance to be the next great NFL cornerback and if Bill Belichick agrees with me, don't be surprised if the Patriots trade up to get him. I doubt Hill will be on the board if the Patriots stay at 21. In that scenario, I like New England to take Ohio State's Bobby Carpenter. If the Patriots trade down in Round 1, the curveball pick everyone is looking for could be Carpenter's college teammate; center Nick Mangold. I know both the Eagles and Cowboys like Carpenter as well. One last possibility is the Patriots stay at 21 and both Hill and Carpenter are off the board. If that happens, don't be surprised to hear the name "LenDale White" called. White has been sliding recently because of his perceived poor work ethic but on the field he's a top ten pick. If Belichick and Scott Pioli think all the negatives about White are overblown, he would be the best value pick here and the Patriots are known for selecting the best football player available.
2. Maurice Stovall, WR Notre Dame – The Patriots need help at receiver and get the unusual luxury of acquiring a player who is familiar with their system because Charlie Weis at Notre Dame uses a lot of the same terminology. Stovall should be able to come in and produce as a rookie. He has good size and deceptive speed. Plus, he had to make a lot of acrobatic catches last year playing with the slightly overrated Brady Quinn. In New England, he'll be able to rack up more yards after the catch because their Brady will hit him on the run and not make him reach back or dive for the ball every other play. Another possibility here could be Virginia Tech defensive end Darryl Tapp. I'm not sure if Tapp can make the transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker or not. Sometimes the shorter, stocky players struggle with that transition. However, if the Patriots think he can make the move, they will be getting a player in Tapp who has a high motor, never takes a play off and has a large repertoire of pass rushing moves. Tapp was one of the most impressive college players I saw on film, I'm just not sure if he's a good fit for the Patriots defense. If the team thinks he is, he would be a great selection here.
3A. Gerris Wilkinson, MLB Georgia Tech – Probably the most physically gifted middle linebacker in this draft. A playmaker who is always around the football, Wilkinson has the speed and quickness to be a very good player at the next level. Wilkinson does a great job in coverage and takes on blockers well at the point of attack. I think he would have a chance to play some as a rookie and that would allow the Patriots to move Mike Vrabel back to the outside from time to time. Getting a player with Wilkinson's ability and versatility would give the Patriots a lot of options on defense.
3B. Jerious Norwood, RB Mississippi State – One of the most underrated players in the draft, Norwood can come in as a rookie and take some of the pressure off Corey Dillon until he eventually replaces him as the feature back. He has great vision as a runner and the speed to be a home run hitter out of the backfield. Norwood can also contribute as a kick returner.
4A. Babatunde Oshinowo, DT Stanford – A big, run-stuffing tackle who played nose tackle at Stanford in their 3-4 defense. Oshinowo is a perfect fit for the Patriots defensive scheme and would provide insurance if Vince Wilfork goes down. He can also play along side Wilfork when the Patriots switch to the 4-3. An excellent value pick if Oshinowo lasts this long.
4B. Fred Matua, G USC – An underrated prospect who plays with a mean streak. Matua is a mauler who excels at run blocking and would provide quality depth for the Patriots at the guard position. Matua will start his career as a backup but could come in and start if Logan Mankins or Stephen Neal gets injured.
5. Oliver Hoyte, MLB North Carolina State – PFW's top rated middle linebacker should go someplace in the fifth or sixth round area. If the Patriots can get Hoyte here, they will have a steal on their hands. A smart, physical player, Hoyte is a guy defensive coordinator Dean Pees really liked when he interviewed him. Hoyte hits like a ton of bricks and at the very least would be a solid special teams contributor as a rookie.
6A. Mike Hass, WR Oregon State – Hass is a smart receiver who can pick up the Patriots system quickly and contribute as a slot receiver in his first year. He's the type of player who will earn Tom Brady's trust quickly with his soft hands and ability to get open. Hass isn't going to wow you when you look at him but he's one of those guys that understands how to play the game of football and is very comfortable on the field. The offense the Patriots run is taylor made for him. I think Hass will slip in the draft because he doesn't have great measurables and if he does, he would be another good value pick here.
6B. Brent Hawkins, OLB/DE Illinois State– In my opinion, the most underrated defensive player in this draft. He has arguably the quickest initial burst off the ball of any pass rusher in this class. Hawkins played at the Division I-AA level after transferring from Purdue, so he's a little raw but the Patriots have the luxury of having him learn the system from quality veterans before he becomes a starter. Hawkins has the physical ability and instincts that can't be taught and if Belichick gets a hold of him, he has the potential to be a future Pro Bowler down the line.
6C. P.J. Daniels, RB Georgia Tech – A physical, straight-ahead runner similar to Dillon. Daniels doesn't have great speed but he's a tough guy to bring down and always seems to get positive yards. Has a chance to emerge as a feature back in the right system. Daniels is an underrated player with upside and would be great value at this point in the draft.
7. Troy Bienemann, TE Washington State – Bienemann is a versatile tight end who can also long snap if the team needs him. He's a decent receiver and a good blocker who can fill the void left by Christian Fauria as the Patriots third tight end. New England could also go kicker with this pick as well.
OverviewWhile I have no clue which players the Patriots will actually select on draft day, I would be very happy if their draft played out similar to this. I tried to project players who I think fit the Patriots system at spots were they represent value for the team.
Hill is the best cover corner in the draft and will help solidify the Patriots secondary for years. As well as the defense played at the end of last year, their secondary still struggled at times. Tye Hill has the speed and ball skills that will remind New England fans of another Ty. Randall Gay is an okay player but guys like him and Eric Warfield won't prevent the Patriots from drafting a game-changing cornerback if they think one is available. This is just a gut feeling but watching Hill on tape, he looks like a player Belichick would covet.
The Patriots need linebackers in order for them to run the 3-4 defense effectively and with Willie McGinest gone and their starters getting older, I think they will start to replenish the position in a linebacker-rich draft. Wilkinson is a perfect fit for the Patriots. He's big, athletic and can both stuff the run and rush the passer. Physically, he's a beast who makes plays all over the field. Wilkinson also has the versatility to play inside or outside, something Belichick loves in his linebackers. He should be able to get on the field as a rookie. Hoyte is a smart, physical linebacker who can be groomed as a future starter. He too has the versatility to play both inside and outside. Hoyte picks up things quickly and is a punishing tackler. Wilkinson and Hoyte could become a lethal combination in the middle of the Patriots defense for years to come. Hawkins is a little raw but he's one of the most physically gifted pass rushers in this draft. He could eventually be a terror on the outside once his overall game is developed. If the draft went this way, the Patriots would go into next year with three players at linebacker who have tremendous upside.
Receiver is a position the Patriots need to address but none of the receivers in this draft really thrill me. I still think New England may make a move for a veteran, possibly Donte' Stallworth. By adding Stovall – a talented receiver who is familiar with the Patriots system – and one more veteran, the Patriots will be set at that position heading into the season. Hass is another guy who is smart enough to come in and produce as a rookie. He would be an excellent replacement for Troy Brown once he retires because the two have similar playing styles. Hass would be a great value pick if he slides to the sixth round. Rarely do first-year receivers take the NFL by storm but in Stovall and Hass, the Patriots would have two players who could get on the field and provide even more reliable targets for Brady.
With Dillon getting up there in age, I think the Patriots could select two running backs in this draft. They may still go with one in the first round but if they don't, Norwood would be an excellent consolation prize. His speed, vision and ability to run inside makes Norwood a complete back that could take over for Dillon in a year or two. He also has experience returning kicks. Daniels is an interesting late-round pick because he's a physical pounder who does most of his work between the tackles. He won't dazzle you with his speed but he almost always gets positive yards and is hard to bring down. Daniels could be a late-round steal for the Patriots.
The Patriots probably weren't all that excited about the offensive line prospects this year, that's why they selected two of them with their first three selections last year. However, guard is the one position that needs depth and with all the talent at USC, Matua gets overlooked. He's a powerful run blocker with surprisingly quick feet. He would add some nice depth at the position and could eventually become a starter.
One area that needs to be addressed in the draft is finding a backup nose tackle. If something were to happen to Wilfork, the Patriots would be in trouble because there is very little behind him. Oshinowo is a big run-stuffer who played nose tackle at Stanford. He's a smart player who is a perfect fit for the Patriots defensive system.
I expect the Patriots to select a tight end at some point (they always do) and Bienemann is a player with versatility. He doesn't really do a lot of things great but he's a decent receiver and good blocker. Bienemann also has the ability to long snap, which increases his value.
I didn't select a kicker and the reason why is because I don't expect the Patriots to keep all 11 picks. If they do, I think there's a chance they could draft a kicker in the later rounds but if they end up with something like eight selections, they will probably go the undrafted free agent route. Either way, expect New England to bring in two young kickers to compete with Martin Gramatica.
So, is this how the Patriots draft will unfold? Absolutely not. I would actually be happy if I hit two out of the 11 picks. However, if the Patriots draft some of these players or those similar to the ones I selected, I think they will walk away with a successful draft and have a team not just good enough to compete next year, but well into the future.